Despite pharma's pandemic push, consumer trust in the industry still comes down to costs: study

A nurse administers a vaccine into a man's arm
Postpandemic, pharma companies need to reinvent the way they operate across R&D, commercial and supply chain, an Accenture analyst says. (Getty/FG Trade)

Turns out it’s going to take more than a successful vaccine response to a global pandemic to make Americans trust pharma companies.

A new study from Accenture shows a boomerang back to a familiar topic—drug costs.

“We asked what would increase trust in the pharmaceutical industry, and for many people there’s a clear link between cost and trust,” Brad Michel, managing director and life sciences lead at Accenture in North America, said.

The top two answers specifically pointed to reduced medication costs (41%) and more transparency in pricing (39%) as measures that would make the respondents trust pharma companies more. Accenture surveyed 1,800 people in May and June about their healthcare experiences.

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An earlier Accenture report from May suggested the new economic reality for pharma meant companies would have to work at changing the cost narrative with customers. It suggests focusing on value and outcome-based pricing to build trust.

Pharma did get a bit of a bump for its contributions during the pandemic. Fifteen percent of those surveyed said they trust pharma companies more than they did before. However, on the flip side, only 16% believe pharma companies "market their products in a trustworthy manner," and just 17% would allow pharma companies to work with their doctors to manage a chronic illness.

Michel sees the spotlight on the industry and its good deeds over the past 18 months as an opportunity.

“The industry needs to take all the good will and standout positive performance that happened during COVID with vaccine development and find a way to industrialize that and scale it across the rest of their business across therapeutic areas,” he said. “That’s going to require a combination of deploying technology, upscaling talent and reinventing the way they operate across R&D, across commercial and across the supply chain.”

RELATED: Pharma industry's reputation hits plateau amid spike in vaccine hesitancy

That's no small feat in an industry where moving quickly hasn’t been the norm.

However, while there may be some backsliding after the rush of changes across digital innovation, technologies, market strategies and drug development, Michel said he’s seeing large pharma organizations moving with purpose to scale pandemic-pushed changes including digital and technology adoption.

“The pace of change that happened during COVID is probably unsustainable for all of us, but I do think there is going to be staying power in many of these themes. Ultimately, it's going to propel the industry forward,” he said.